by Gabriele Schorb-Machado~
While some couples look at the “empty nest” as a second honeymoon, and they leap gracefully into the next chapter of their lives, other couples will face challenges of reinventing their marriage for the second half. For some, this can be a hard time on their marriage.
The sad news is that there has been a steady increase in the number of divorces among couples married 30 or more years. Many long-term married couples divorce one another after the kids leave home. They realize too late that their children kept them together. Other couples divorce during the empty nest years because they can’t handle the health issues and the sense of an uncertain future along with being overwhelmed by too much togetherness. This has been referred to as the “Grey Divorce Rate”.
In 1990, fewer than one in 10 individuals who divorced were 50 or older. Almost 20 years later, that number jumped to more than one in four. In 2009, more than 600,000 people ages 50 and over got divorced. (The researchers analyzed data from the 1990 U.S. Vital Statistics Report and the 2009 American Community Survey administered by the U.S. Census Bureau.) Some long-term spouses relate to each other primarily in their roles as mothers and fathers and not as romantic partners. And if the emotional connection has diminished, chances are the sexual one has, too. It is easier to justify not having sex when a couple is focused on the child. Other factors that contribute to making a couple so vulnerable at this juncture in their lives are: elderly parents, one’s own health problems, menopause, decrease in libido, possible financial problems, change in identity and self- worth, changes in emotional connections between partners, and blaming each other.
The good news is that with good communication and preparation for this phase of your relationship, the empty nest years can be tremendously enjoyable and full of new beginnings. Some parents enjoy greater freedom, a reconnection with their spouses and more time to pursue their own goals and interests once their children leave home. Some studies report that seeing a child start down the path toward successful adulthood gives them a feeling of joy and pride.
Some experts say that couples who wait until the kids are gone before dealing with their marital problems run a greater risk of late-life divorce.
What can a couple do to better weather the empty nest together?
• Prevention is the best intervention. Have a dialogue before the kids move out. Create a long term strategic plan. What do you want your relationship to look like once the children are gone? Where do you want to live? What types of experiences do you want to share?
• Find an identity outside of being a co-parent.
• Nurture your relationship. Plan times when you will do things together. Refocus on your relationship. Keep your relationship the anchor relationship.
• Discuss and share your feelings and sadness about the children leaving.
• Slow down and get some long deserved rest. Enjoy the slower pace of life.
• Celebrate with your partner that you made it through the active parenting years. Plan for fun times. Plan a getaway.
• Resist making some immediate decisions about the future. Give yourselves some time to get to know each other again and revitalize your relationship.
• Let go of the past and forgive each other. Choose to make the best out of the next phase of your relationship to each other and with your adult children.
• No matter what challenges you have faced in the past, you can reinvent your relationship.
• Connect with other empty nest couples.
• If depression hits you hard, take action. Join a support group or see a therapist.
Some resources for support:
Empty Nesting: Reinventing Your Marriage When the Kids Leave Home [Paperback]
David H. Arp (Author), Claudia S. Arp (Author), Scott M. Stanley (Author), Howard J. Markman (Author), Susan L. Blumber.g
Refeathering the Empty Nest: Life After the Children Leave by Wendy Aronsson
Coping With Empty Nest Syndrome – The Sensibly Selfish Way by Kay Newton
Empty Nesting… BEFORE the nest Is Empty?: Navigating the ‘tween’ years with your heart in Tact
• By Alyssa Strong